Remembering the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Published: Thursday, Dec. 23 2010 5:30 a.m. MST

During a year when Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned king of Italy, and Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean, there were no headlines to herald the birth of a humble boy in Sharon, Vt.

His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, barely mentioned her son's birth in her book, "The History of Joseph Smith."

"We had a son whom we called Joseph, after the name of his father; he was born December 23, 1805. I shall speak of him more particularly by and by," she wrote.

Joseph's lowly pre-Christmas arrival in a frame home on Dairy Hill was that of a common man.

But his life was entirely uncommon.

Although times were tough, Joseph was born into a family of faith, unity and industry that prepared him for his future calling as a prophet of God.

Gary Boatwright Jr. and Don L. Enders have both worked for the Church History Department as historic site researchers for many years. T. Michael Smith and Kirk B. Henrichsen have also researched Joseph's birthplace. They were not there for Joseph's birth, but they can paint a picture of the circumstances surrounding the important event.

The background

Following the marriage of Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack Smith in 1796, Enders said a series of unfortunate events led the couple and their three children to Sharon, Vt.

"Life had begun full of promise for Joseph and Lucy. But within six years, shortly after the births of Alvin, Hyrum and Sophronia, they had the very unfortunate circumstance of an economic downturn," Enders said. "There was the misconduct of a business partner of Joseph Smith Sr. There were unwise decisions on their part, and just bad luck. They lost their farm and home. They were destitute. They had to make a living through hard work and labor."

Following the sale of their farm, the family moved from Tunbridge, Vt., to Royalton Township, Vt. The family remained there for a few months until they were offered a small home and adjoining land to rent in Sharon, which Lucy's father, Solomon Mack, had purchased in 1804.

The birth

As the frigid New England winter gripped the Vermont countryside in December 1805, a fire likely provided some warmth in the humble frame home where Joseph Smith and his family lived.

The home was not insulated, Enders said. The walls were likely no more than an inch or two thick, so even when the fireplace roared with flames, the room's temperature remained low. Lucy was likely confined to a bed in the one bedroom, Enders said.

"Winters in Vermont are bitterly cold with lots of snow," Boatwright said.

In those days, Enders said, midwives and other women assisted in the birthing process.

"They knew the process and were pretty darn good," he said.

It's possible that Lucy's mother, Lydia Gates Mack, was present because the Macks lived nearby.

Male doctors were viewed as specialists who supposedly handled difficult situations. Historians think Lucy encountered complications because a doctor was called in to help deliver Joseph.

As prophesied in scripture by Joseph of Egypt, the newborn was named after his father, "And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation" (2 Nephi 3:15).

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